Marcel Broodthaers was a struggling poet until, on the cusp of turning 40 in 1963, he decided to become an artist.
“I, too, wondered whether I could not sell something and succeed in life. For some time I had been no good at anything. I am forty years old… Finally the idea of inventing something insincere finally crossed my mind and I set to work straightaway. At the end of three months I showed what I had produced to Philippe Edouard Toussaint, the owner of the Galerie St Laurent. ‘But it is art’ he said ‘and I will willingly exhibit all of it.’ ‘Agreed’ I replied. If I sell something, he takes 30%. It seems these are the usual conditions, some galleries take 75%. What is it? In fact it is objects.”-Marcel Broodthaers,Tate Gallery, 1980.
He might have viewed making art as creating something insincere, maybe because in order to succeed one needed to cater to those who would buy it, but his work actually exhudes a personal style and wit which can only be described as sincere, even in its “insincerity”.
Broodthaers’ first task as an artist was taking unsold copies of his book of poems Pense-Bête and imbedding them in plaster. By doing so, he converted the now unreadable book into an art object, which would be sought out not for the poetry it contained but for the idea it represented. Throughout his career, he took ordinary objects, text, poetry, film, advertising images, and recontextualized them, creating his own critique and commentary on the state of art.
“At first I displayed objects of everyday life – mussels, eggs, pots, advertising imagery. This point of departure inscribed me within the context of “New” Realism and sometimes to Pop Art, when I treat my subject with the intention of reducing it to a theoretical sketch… Today, when the image destined for current consumption has assumed the subtleties and violence of New Realism and of Pop Art, I would hope that definitions of art would support a critical vision both of society and of art, as well as of art criticism itself. The language of forms must be united with that of words…” –Marcel Broodthaers, Open Letter (Brussels, April 1968) addressed to the editor of Art International and published later in a catalogue from the exhibition Lignano Biennale 1 (Lignano 1968).
While he experimented in many mediums such as ready-made, installation, print and film, Broothaer’s work was always marked by a certain simplicity, clean aesthetics and poetic humour, his style retaining its pertinence to this day.
Fig. 1 Programme, 1973, Herbert Foundation
Ne dites pas que je ne l’ai pas dit – Le Perroquet , 1974. Two palm trees, an African gray Parrot, a glass case displaying Broodthaers’ catalogue from his 1966 exhibition at the Wide White Space gallery in Antwerp, along with a reprint from 1974, and a recording of the artist himself, reciting one of his poems: “Moi Je dis Je Moi Je dis Je…”. Peter Freemann Inc
Casserole et moules fermées, 1964, Tate Collection
Fémur de la Femme Française, 1965, Museo Reina Sofia